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The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
Since 1888
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.

Red Hot Chili Peppers make surprising return to form in ‘Return of the Dream Canteen’

California alternative rock legend Red Hot Chili Peppers serve up a dose of funky basslines, guitar pyrotechnics and catchy hooks in “Return of the Dream Canteen.”
The cover of Red Hot Chili Peppers’ newest album, “Return of the Dream Canteen.” (Photo courtesy of Warner)

With 80 million record sales and an impressive collection of timeless alternative rock tunes to their name, the Red Hot Chili Peppers do not have much left to prove. After the runaway success of 1991’s “Blood Sugar Sex Magik,” the California natives embarked on a quest for global rock ‘n’ roll domination, going on to earn six Grammy awards and perform for thousands. Unfortunately, this momentum largely came to an end with the 2009 departure of guitarist John Frusciante, leaving one of alternative rock’s most distinctive bands with an identity crisis. After over a decade of lost musical direction, the Peppers’ prodigal guitarist returned for the much-anticipated 2022 album, “Unlimited Love,” which, unfortunately, failed to live up to the immense hype. 

Considering the mediocrity of “Unlimited Love,” I was more than a little surprised when “Return to the Dream Canteen,” released only six months after “Unlimited Love,” was pretty solid. While the record undoubtedly has its shortcomings, “Dream Canteen” is a strong addition to the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ already impressive catalog.

“Dream Canteen,” above all else, succeeds for one simple reason: The band plays to its strengths. By ditching the overbearing synthesizers, horns and other sonic mush that weighed down “Unlimited,” the Peppers return to the elements that gave their earlier material its magic. They place the sonic alchemy of Flea’s (Michael Balzary) busy bass playing and Frusciante’s melodic, Hendrix-inspired guitar stylings at the forefront of the soundscape. Such is apparent in the opener, “Tippa my Tongue,” a track that sees Flea return to his signature low-end antics for a grooving, slap bass riff that, in conjunction with the twangy chords of Frusciante, had me doing a certifiably dorky boogie. “Tippa my Tongue” also boasts the senseless, Dr. Seuss-esque rhymes of frontman Anthony Kiedis, a man whose lyrical style can be best described as musical alphabet soup. Where Kiedis’s silliness occasionally comes off as awkward and downright gross in “Unlimited Love,” “Tippa my Tongue” reframes this lyrical inanity in a context that is just plain fun. The track, despite its overtly sexual subject matter, does not have the stench of some of their last release’s more salacious cuts (looking at you, “Aquatic Mouth Dance.”) 

In another standout track, “Eddie” displays the band’s keen melodic sensibilities in a poignant love letter to the late guitarist Eddie Van Halen. Beginning with a simple guitar melody supported by an emotive bassline, the song unwinds to reveal some of the band’s most touching material since their 2006 album, “Stadium Arcadium.” “Please don’t remember me for what I did last night / it’s only 1980 / it’s only 1983,” Kiedis sings, putting up an unabashed display of nostalgia and adoration for the seminal rock band. The song concludes in the only way a Van Halen tribute could: with a high-flying overdriven guitar solo. As Frusciante weaves together melody after melody to combine his own style with that of the titular guitarist, one can truly feel the profound impression left by the loss of one of history’s greatest guitar heroes in 2020. 

“Fake as Fu@k” and “Bella” harken a return to the funk-infused fun of “Tippa my Tongue.” In the former track, the band partakes in what can only be described as Chili-Peppers-esque pop rock meets unfettered George Clinton worship. The horns in this track, though undeniably campy, fit well within the lighthearted vibe of the record. The same is true of “Bella,” which contains both some of the record’s finest guitar and bass riffage with singalong hooks. Replete with funky, feel-good fun, both tracks adhere to the classic Chili Peppers formula to great success. 

The same cannot be said for “My Cigarette.” With an obnoxious drum machine and a hook that consists of ad nauseam repetitions of the song’s title, the song takes cues from Daft Punk for an unappealing product. This track, along with a few others, begs the question of whether the 75-minute double album’s 17-song tracklist would benefit from some pruning. I would argue affirmatively. Although the project has some of the Chili’s finest tunes in many years, “Dream Canteen,” lacks the crucial attribute of concision. Forgettable tracks like “In the Snow,” “Shoot Me a Smile” and the aforementioned “My Cigarette” effectively dilute the album and reduce the efficacy of more memorable cuts like “Eddie” and “Bella.” 

“Return of the Dream Canteen” is a bit of an anomaly. Very rarely does a follow-up album of leftover material eclipse its predecessor; Radiohead’s “Amnesiac” and Taylor Swift’s “evermore” are perfectly fine albums, but they do not quite stand up to “Kid A” and “folklore,” respectively. However, this is the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and if there’s one thing for certain about the California goofballs, they have a knack for upsetting expectations. 

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